Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever laid eyes on, and of course you would need at least a few days to soak in the culture, food, architecture and unique sights. If you, for some reason, decided to allocate only a day for sightseeing in Kyoto, I would’ve said THAT’S FREAKING CRAZY!
But the truth is, it’s possible to see all the major sites in one day. HOWEVER, that really depends on how long you spend in each place. For me, I took no longer than an hour in each area so it was quite.. doable.
So what are the Kyoto must-sees?
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Do not confuse with the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), this is the Kinkaku-ji which is towards North West of Kyoto city centre. They are very far apart!
The gold temple really shines brightly under the sun and sadly it couldn’t translate in my photo. Sorry I couldn’t do it justice!
The golden pavilion is one of Kyoto’s most iconic sight. The zen temple covered in gold leaf reflects beautifully in the water of the ‘mirror pond’ and is most impressive during snowy settings.
However, be sure to get here right after it opens to avoid the crowd, because it can get very irritating and way too packed to enjoy the view properly. I was getting very short tempered during the visit.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
No doubt one of the most ridiculously photogenic spots of Kyoto. Walking through the soaring stalks, with the enchanting sound of the wind rustling through the bamboos in the background is a surreal experience. I feel like.. it just can’t get anymore zen than this. You would’ve really missed out if you didn’t make time for this in Kyoto!
Photo tip: At most times it may feel extremely crowded with no great photo opportunity but just be patient, because the crowds will come and go and eventually you will end up with a pleasantly empty walkway.
So you can get a nice profile picture worthy photo! Except this particular one below – I got slightly photobombed but that’s besides the point.
We also managed to see some geishas along the way!! Yay!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
We are going through Kyoto’s most iconic sights and the next one is no different. Instantly recognisable for its thousands of vermillion torii gates, which is its entrance to the sacred shrine. The scene where Chiyo runs away in Memoirs of a Geisha! AND IT IS RIDICULOUSLY PHOTOGENIC!!! Kyoto, you are really killing it!
Photo tip: Like the bamboo grove, it is worth it to be patient and wait out the crowds. Some people prefer to come here in the extreme early mornings for that photo opportunity but actually, it’s possible even during the most busy times. The trick is to take your photos after the u-turn, because everyone spams their phototaking in the first part of the route and not so much on the second part.
Also, the writings on the torii gates are only on one side, so remember to face the side which you prefer. Obviously, I prefer the text – it provides the photos so much depth. End of my frivolous advice!!!
Kiyomizu-dera (Water Temple)
Perched on a hill overlooking the city of Kyoto is the water temple. This was actually my parents’ favourite Kyoto attraction! The huge compound surrounding Kiyomizu-dera is perfect for a stroll around the temple grounds.
Be sure to head downstairs, where the Otowa waterfall flows down in three streams. If you are patient enough to queue for it, you can take a ladle and drink from the flowing water for what is believed to be good luck, achievement, success, etc. 🙂
Taking a night stroll down the bustling yet relaxed Pontocho area is a must-do for great Kyoto evening vibes. With endless dining spots and alleyways like mazes, getting lost can be very enjoyable.
Read about my post on Pontocho Alley.
I’ve got more time – what else is there?
So you somehow managed to power through all the must-sees of Kyoto in a day and need more. Here are some more places for you to visit!
Photo credit: muza-chan.net
The city’s most famous geisha district – a collection of teahouses, expensive Japanese restaurants and traditional buildings. You may even spot the elusive geishas, hurrying to their next appointment.
Photo credit: quieteating.wordpress.com
The famed Temple of the Silver Pavilion, situated in the eastern mountains is not to be confused with the Golden Pavilion.
Photo credit: kyoto.asanoxn.com/places/nijojo/nijojo.htm
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a flatland castle, which used to be the base of the Shogun in the ancient capital of Kyoto.
Photo credit: Uno Cookbook
The 400 year old Nishiki Market is Kyoto’s largest traditional market located in downtown Kyoto so come here if you are interested in seeing all the quirky and awesome food that goes into cuisines of Kyoto!
Getting to Kyoto from Tokyo
Daily bullet train tickets are available for purchase at the bigger train stations, such as Shinjuku and Shinagawa. I was worried about not being able to buy them before my Japan trip, but actually it can be bought 1-2 days before your actual Kyoto trip.
It’s a very easy process and the staff speaks English at the station too. So, no worries.
We took the fastest bullet train available – the Nozomi shinkansen. We made it from Tokyo to Kyoto is just under two and a half hours (140mins). The Hikari takes 160 mins, and the Kodama takes 4 hours.
Tip: Be sure to sit on the right side for Tokyo – Kyoto for a view of Mt. Fuji, and left side for Kyoto – Tokyo trips.
We weren’t lucky enough to see Mt. Fuji for our first leg of the trip, but coming back the conditions were excellent. Mt. Fuji looked amazing, and it saved us a daytrip to Hakone!
We stayed in a very beautiful traditional style Airbnb with a balcony view of a tranquil stream, and the ducks come by every morning waiting to be fed. Such a shame that it wasn’t cherry blossom season!!! This home would’ve been even more gorgeous with sakura trees lining along the street. Can’t be too greedy right!! Hehe.